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Trade & Investment

China’s top negotiator underperformed his job in the China-US trade talk

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with China’s Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2019. (photo from REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Liu He, China’s Vice Premier and the top negotiator for the current China-US trade talk, did not do his job good enough as he either said too much yes during the face-to-face talks, or significantly underestimated the ultimate terms, including the last-minute requests, demanded by the Trump administration.

As I said last year, Trump could win the trade war easily, and actually too easily.

Therefore, it was not abnormal, nor unreasonable, for him to ask for something more than usual or necessary. Fine, so be it.

The Chinese top negotiator should take all these into calculation and accordingly, by assessing the US electoral politics, regional interests, trade benefits redistribution and so on, sum up a rough total for Beijing’s computation.

However rough it may be, it cannot be too far away from understanding Trump’s needs to show he is going to ‘make America Great Again’.

As the negotiation atmosphere during the January-April period appeared to be very constructive and progressing, at least shown in the mass media and Trump’s personal tweets, the ‘shock’ in May has reflected that Liu He has somehow caused certain misunderstanding between the Politico leaders in Beijing and the Trump team in Washington.

In early April, CNBC reported that Liu met President Trump at the White House’s Oval Office on Apr 4 and quoted that “ … Liu He said a new consensus has been reached between China and the US on the text of a trade agreement that they are negotiating …” As a result, “Trump says US-China trade deal may be reached in four weeks,” (Reuters on April 4).

Perhaps, during that round of face-to-face talk, Liu He might have thought that he would be able to convince the Politico leaders to accept the final terms after his return to Beijing. Apparently, he failed.

The fundamental reason for the sudden change in the May 5-11 week was that, according to a CNBC report on May 8, Washington found “systematic edits to a nearly 150-page draft trade agreement” in the diplomatic cable from Beijing. After the non-productive meeting of the two sides ended, the People’s Daily and the official Xinhua news agency stipulated that three main differences remain in the China-US trade talks (Reuters May 11).

The indication is simply that the Politico leaders refused to accept the so-called “consensus” reached between Liu and the Trump team. Since these terms are unknown to the public, there is a lack of fair ground for comment. Yet, what is obvious is Liu’s underperformance.

Looking forward, since China is subject to the risks of being ‘punished’ by the US for the agonistic situations in Taiwan, Iran and Venezuela (by tariffs again?), it is unlikely a trade deal can be made soon. Beijing may prefer to wait for a clearer picture of the US election outcome in 2020, rather than rush to make a bad deal.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).


One thought on “China’s top negotiator underperformed his job in the China-US trade talk

  1. Whether he did, or did not do a good job, it seems that whatever deal he made was later rejected by the CCP. And again, he is the ONLY CCP official that understands the economy and world trade. If they get rid of him, then they are on a hiding to nothing.


    Posted by John | May 15, 2019, 6:04 pm

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